Dr Luke Turley

 

Dr Luke Turley was told that after completing his job as registrar he could go into one of three fields of general practice: locum at a general practice; salaried GP; or partner of a general practice. But he wasn’t told that his options didn’t end there. He found this out quite by chance, being contacted by Med-Co for work in a nearby prison shortly after deciding to become a GP locum. Luke ended up staying there for 3 years. It was then that the Med-Co board paid Luke a visit in his home in Poole, showing up on his doorstep with a Chinese takeaway and a business proposal Luke couldn’t refuse: impressed with his enthusiasm and efforts to make a difference, would he like to take on the role of  CEO and Clinical Director of Med-Co’s new clinical services business.  From here on Luke has worked at various prisons and military bases across the world. I asked him to tell me about some of his experiences...

MOD

“If you get the chance, go for it!” this is Luke’s response when I ask him about his GP locum job in the Ministry of Defence (MOD). He tells me of the chances to travel across the world, from Belize to Cyprus, the Falkland Islands to Kenya. He enthuses over the relaxed pace of life, the extra time spent with each patient, the good wages, and the experiences, both medical (from sport injuries to mental health) and cultural (learn new sports, such as kabaddi), available in this line of work. Although, Luke considers the ‘best job [he’s] ever done’ to be locuming with the British Army in Kenya...

Described by the BBC as ‘the cradle of humanity’, Kenya is a country full of ethnic diversity, cultural wonders and zoological beauty. Hordes of tourists travel to this country every year to witness the annual migration of wildebeest to the Maasai Mara, or to tick the ‘big five’ off their animal-spotting list. Luke was no different: he had visited the Mount Kenya Safari Club, got up close and personal with baby buffaloes and monkeys, and had had his medical expertise tested by a women who had had several unfortunate encounters with both an elephant calf and a cheetah cub. Not quite your average day in Dorset. However, all was not quite so idyllic for Luke’s brushes with the local wildlife... It was late, past midnight, when Luke awoke from blissful slumber to make a trip to the bathroom. On his way back, eyes still bleary from sleep, his foot landed a couple of inches from a spider, no larger than a paperclip. His curious nature caused him to grab his camera from a nearby table and take a photo of the small creature. He then returned to bed, resolving to discover the species of the spider the following morning. Having consulted the ‘go-to spider guy’, Luke was told his uninvited houseguest was in fact a Black Widow, one of the most venomous spiders in the world. And, there was not one, not two, but a whole nest of them living above Luke’s bed. Luckily for Luke, however, this was the most excitement he encountered in his 6-week placement in Nanyuki, Kenya, until the very last day...

It was late afternoon; the sun was beating down on the parched landscape; insects lazily buzzed against the bare light bulb in the healthcare clinic. It had been an uneventful week, just the usual minor ailments common across the world. buzz...buzz...buzz... Luke’s phone vibrated on the wooden table. A minibus carrying a troop of army children home from school had crashed. The once peaceful clinic awakened into a flurry of activity. Three children needed urgent medical attention but the nearest hospital was three hours away in Nairobi, along a notoriously treacherous road. They would need a helicopter. Spinal boards were yanked out of storage and rushed to the scene. A whirring sound overhead signalled the arrival of the helicopter. Luke raised his arm to shield his eyes as a detritus of dust, leaves and pebbles were whisked into the air and pelted at the steadily forming crowd. Luke’s mind cast back to a few weeks earlier where he had nearly made the decision to send a man with suspected appendicitis in the helicopter to Nairobi, before the field medic had bravely stepped in, claiming she could make the drive to the hospital before nightfall. Such routine occurrences in the UK made much more dramatic and life-threatening here in rural Kenya.

Prison

‘Prisons are a forgotten part of society’: this is why Luke believes it is so important he works there. He feels he can really make a difference in the lives of the prisoners, both medically and as part of their rehabilitation. He gives me an example of a young man he met in prison, who had been abused since the age of 6 weeks old, and who had been in and out of Young Offenders and prison for most of his young life. He had been dehumanised by his parents, his foster parents, prison guards and policemen. It was only upon meeting and being treated by Luke that this man felt that ‘for the first time in [his] life someone had treated [him] as a human being’. This ultimately changed the young man’s outlook on life and helped with his rehabilitation. Luke tells me that this isn’t the only ‘success’ story he’s encountered...

Over the years you get to know your prison patients. And it’s the same vice versa: your patients get to know you. It was October 2010. Crimson leaves littered UK pavements and the air was starting to chill. Memories of summer were still in Luke’s mind as he boarded a plane destined for South Africa. Early morning safaris are popular with adventurous tourists who want to see the wild animals of Africa at their most active. This was a safari Luke had booked himself in for. Unshaven, dark circles under his eyes, and in severe need of a coffee, was how Luke arrived at Kruger National Park at 4:30am. The sky was just starting to lighten as the open-top safari jeep pulled up on the dirt track. “Morning Doc!” Luke peered through the dim light at the grinning ranger’s face. Recognition slowly dawned in Luke’s eyes. Here, stood in front of him, was a prison patient Luke had treated for a couple of years until his release and deportation back to South Africa earlier this year. “I was amazed he recognised me halfway across the world!” This ex-convict had completely turned his life around – from prison to conservation. Luke felt a burst of pride swell within him – he had impacted this man’s life to the extent that he recognised him completely out of context and greeted him as an old friend. What stories locuming had given Luke to tell.

Locuming ‘opened up a whole new world’ for Luke. Both prisons and MOD work come with their own unique challenges but these challenges create the opportunity to learn and hone new skills. Luke tells me how areas of medicine he previously disliked as a student became his fascination once translated into ‘real’ life. Seeing, learning, and experiencing different things has made Luke a better, more well-rounded doctor, and, indeed, Luke tells me he “can’t see [him]self ever going back to being a normal GP again”.

 

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